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A Citizen’s Eye View of Public Preparedness

CDC To Hold 10 “Public Engagement” Forums To Solicit Citizen Guidance On H1N1 Vaccinations

August 2nd, 2009 · 2 Comments

CIDRAP News reports that the Centers For Disease Control (CDC) will be holding public forums throughout the nation this month to get citizen feedback on how to implement this Fall’s H1N1 flu vaccinations. According to the article:

The CDC will hold 10 “public engagement” meetings around the country to get the citizenry’s advice on whether the vaccination program should be an all-out effort or something more modest, according to Roger Bernier, PhD, MPH, senior advisor in the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

The agency wants to take the public pulse on the issue because there’s so much uncertainty about the scale and of the severity of the pandemic and the demand for the vaccine this fall and winter, Bernier said.

“We’re at some danger of either overreacting or underreacting, and that depends on how fully prepared we want to be and how we invest to be fully prepared,” he said. “We’re trying to learn how they [the public] value preparation in this case, and how they balance that against possible safety concerns and other issues that arise.”

I think it is terrific that the CDC is reaching out to the public on H1N1 preparedness in this way. In addition to whatever guidance it receives from these meetings, this type of outreach will help in educating the nation about the risk tradeoffs in preparing for H1N1 (in cost, safety, nuisance, etc.).

Obviously, the government must take a leadership role in dealing with such a significant public health challenge as H1N1, but engaging the public in decision making (on questions such as how much? how big? and how quickly?) not only will probably improve implementation but also help share the risk burden. It will also help the agency learn the public’s questions and concerns about the vaccination. Holding these meetings is a good example of the type of leading and listening that I think is a key in emergency preparedness for this and other major threats. It gives the public both a role and a responsibility in preparation planning.

The CDC has scheduled a meeting in one city in each of the 10 Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) regions, he reported. The all-day meetings will be held on Saturdays. Dates and locations are as follows:

Aug 8: Denver, Colo., and Lincoln, Neb.
Aug 15: Birmingham, Ala., Sacramento, Calif., and Vincennes, Ind.
Aug 22: El Paso, Tex., Bucks County (near Philadelphia), Pa., and New York City
Aug 29: Somerville, Mass., and Spokane, Wash.

Participants for the meetings are being recruited through local health departments, civic organizations, and other means, Bernier said. The aim is to draw a group that reflects the local population in terms of age, race, and sex. “We’re not looking at people’s attitudes or beliefs coming in,” he said.

The participants will hear a presentation of basic information they’ll need to have an informed discussion and then will break into small groups to discuss the issues, he reported.

“The question we’re putting on the table has to do with what should be the implementation strategy the US should adopt for pandemic flu,” he said. “Are we talking about a full-throttle or a go-slow approach, or an approach somewhere in between?”

He said a full-throttle approach would probably involve a large number and variety of vaccination sites, such as public clinics, physicians’ offices, and schools, whereas a go-slow approach would be more like a seasonal flu vaccination program. An all-out effort would likely include a major communication campaign to stoke demand for the vaccine, but communication steps in a smaller campaign would aim to simply meet existing demand, he said.

Hat tip to the FluGov Twitter feed for bringing this to my attention.

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Tags: Pandemic Flu

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